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Officials look to improve emergency services

In February, Don Mootz announced his retirement as Lawrence County 911 Emergency Management Agency Director.

The Lawrence County Commission chose to divide the job into two entities, promoting dispatcher Lonnie Best to the 911 supervisor’s position and Mike Boster as supervisor of the EMA. What are Best’s and Boster’s plans for the future and how will those impact Lawrence County?

Lonnie Best

Unless you need an ambulance or fire truck, Best and his agency may never enter your mind. But when you do need emergency services, you want the best you can find as quickly as you can get it.

That’s where Best comes in. He said his one ambition is to continue to build on 911’s history of service to the community.

“I like the challenges it brings,” Best said of his promotion. “There is a lot of work and I am addressing areas I never had to think about before: hiring new employees, scheduling. But we take everything as it comes. I look forward to doing what needs to be done and having the most up-to-date system for Lawrence County.”

One of the main goals for Best is to improve technology by upgrading equipment. In April, county officials approved a contact with Emergitech Public Safety Software Co. to install a new computer-aided dispatch system (CAD). The new system will, among other things, allow for better service to callers using cellular phones.

When the system upgrade is complete, dispatchers will be able to determine the latitude and longitude of the cellular caller’s location, enabling emergency workers to find that caller faster.

“If people get to the top of a hill near Lake Vesuvius and get lost, this gives forestry officials what they need to find the people. They won’t have to guesstimate,” Best said.

The upgrades are paid for by fees collected from cell phone users and added to cell phone bills.

Best would like to continue equipment improvements by replacing the radio system linking his office with the county’s fire departments — something that has gotten its share of complaints over the years.

The biggest hindrance to these improvements is money. Lawrence County’s government pocket book simply doesn’t have enough of it. Best hopes state or federal agencies can help out with grants.

“My hope is that I can talk to people from the PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), other agencies and see how much money it would take to make the improvements we need to make within the next year or so,” Best said, adding he has no idea how much money it would cost for new towers, new antennae, tower radios and equipment for the fire departments.

“We need to update this system for everyone so we can move into the 21st century,” he said. “We want emergency providers here to have the best. We deserve that as much as those in any other county.”

In the last 25 years personal communications has changed markedly, enabling people to talk to almost anyone anywhere anytime. Advances in communications now include Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) such as Vonage and text messaging — two things that weren’t around when the concept of 911 was created.

“There is nothing in our protocol that comes close to this,” Best said.

Lawrence County is not alone in this.

“Nationwide VOIP and text messaging have not been addressed,” he said. “We’re moving forward, but technology is moving ahead of us. We’ve got to step up and address these things. We know they exist. There is always something new.”

Boster

Even 10 years ago, emergency management agencies were known commonly as “disaster services.” Floods? Mudslides? Chemical spills? Better call disaster services.

But 9-11 changed that. Like other such agencies these days, the Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency’s plate has much more on it than it used to have. In addition to natural disasters and industrial accidents, EMA is now expected to take the lead locally in Homeland Security endeavors.

The job of EMA, whether the issue is a terrorist attack or a flash flood, is to coordinate agencies and services in terms of both preparedness efforts ahead of time as well as emergency response during an incident.

Boster was involved in the implementation of a catastrophic plan for the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade. The plan was created this year along with Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon, SEOEMS, the Ironton public works department, Best and others.

“That’s a lot of folks who would be vulnerable in an incident, whether it is natural or man-made,” Boster said. “This was not just a case of whether Joe Schmo bomber would drop in on us, but other things that could happen.”

He praised the parade committee for having “its act together” and for its work in creating the catastrophic plan.

Boster would like to see catastrophic plans in place for other large-crowd events as well, such as the Lawrence County Fair.

If 9-11 awakened Americans to the realities of terrorism, it also spurred emergency responders to become more knowledgeable and better trained in areas they had not even considered.

Biological weapons. Home-grown terrorists. Chemical weapons and even the more mundane but just as serious chemical spills. The responsibilities placed on firefighters, law enforcement officers and paramedics these days have increased. It is the role of EMA to coordinate and organize training.

Boster is planning to host an incident command system seminar later this year, allowing local responders to get in-depth instruction on how to best manage manpower and resources in emergencies.

Another role of EMA is public education, something Boster said is vital to the community.

“I want to help people better understand the role of EMA,” he said. “That’s the big hurdle for EMA not just for EMA, but for all the cooperating agencies that act within the scope of their jobs whenever there is an emergency in Lawrence County.”